Since 2015, Broadway has reemerged as a driving force in the entertainment world. With shows like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child making waves, many internationally, the live theatre scene has once again been shot into the limelight.
Some recent trends for Broadway shows have focused on empowerment, mental illness, and, to mixed reviews, rehashing stories that first appeared on the screen. All four of the 2018 Best Musical Nominees for the Tony Awards fall into this category (SpongeBob, The Band’s Visit, Mean Girls, and Frozen) while Pretty Women: The Musical opened on Broadway on August 16th. Other shows like School of Rock and Waitress have been running for a few years and are touring the country.
As someone whose favorite musical is Waitress, there’s definite proof that screen-to-stage adaptations can be done right. Movies being turned into stage shows allow a whole new generation the ability to connect with a story they may have previously not known about. (I saw Pretty Woman during its Chicago preview, however I’ve yet to see the movie.) These adaptations also bring beautiful new scores to the world (see: She Used to Be Mine from Waitress and Santa Fe from Newsies), and a level of storytelling and intimacy sometimes hard to achieve through a camera.
But recent inspirations haven’t fared quite as well as the heartbreaking Waitress or Off-Broadway’s energetic and poignant Be More Chill (based off the novel by Ned Vizzini of the same name). Pretty Woman met reviews saying it was too clean, and too shallow, and one of the blandest new musicals around.
The other side of that coin is the wholly original content that Broadway has produced this season, notably Head Over Heels and Gettin’ The Band Back Together.
Head Over Heels is a jukebox musical featuring the stylings of the Go-Gos and a re-imagining of Arcadia. The musical made Broadway history as the first show to feature a transgender woman (Peppermint in the role of Pythio), but was met with both good and only okay reviews. Some felt the musical didn’t quite hit the same mark as the hit Mamma Mia did, while others fell hard for the progressivism and the lightness of the story.
Another new musical, Gettin’ the Band Back Together, has been widely anticipated this season, but fell short of the promise that producer and writer Ken Davenport made before the opening night performance: that the show would be something totally original. Though the plot was original reviewers felt the show was a lot of things audience members had seen before; an adult School of Rock, or a mix between School of Rock and Rock of Ages. The show’s reviews also mentioned the myriad of tropes, like high school enemies staying enemies into adulthood and following a long-lost dream, that did not give any originality to the musical.
The question, then, is what is truly for best for Broadway? The answer? Everything. Not every show is going to be a Tony-Winner, whether it’s original or not, and movies/books turned into musicals or plays can be just as successful and impactful as original shows. The quality of the show is what truly makes a difference. Dear Evan Hansen has such incredible character depth, something Gettin’ the Band Back Together seems to be lacking. The original play Lobby Hero picked up Tony nominations and good reviews while Harry Potter and the Cursed Child truly swept. These stories are totally different, but both draw the audience in and make them want more.
The problem isn’t completely using a new plot versus one already done, it’s all about how you do it. And I have full faith that Broadway will gather the best shows they can over the next few seasons, no matter where they come from.